History Of Cursillo

By David Ferguson

Changing the heart of human beings is something that only God can achieve. This is the great miracle of His kindness. In the time after Christ, God brought this about by using human messengers. By weaving a network of love relationships, all opposition caused by selfishness, pleasure and power is overcome. In specific areas of Church history, God used new apostles to change the course of History according to His own plan of love. More than fifty years ago, Jesus Christ gave the gift of Cursillo to the lay people of His Church. Why to lay people? Because they are at the heart of the world as God’s leaven.


What happened then? I would like to review briefly the history of the beginnings of Cursillo. The power of this gift has affected millions of people on earth and still does it in spite of our weakness and human limitations. Cursillo did not come to the Church as a spontaneous creation. It was rooted in the human soil of Spain. We can trace it back to the call of Pius XI. He wrote an encyclical, in 1922, called Ubi Arcano, in which he was inviting the laity to become true leaven of Christ in the human dough in order to counteract all anticlerical and anti-Christian influences of the world of the 1920s and 30s. This is how Catholic Action was born. In Spain, the most active wing of Catholic Action was the young men.

A great Convention took place in December 1932. At this gathering it was decided to try to stimulate the Christian faith in young people through a great pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint James in Compostela, an important place of prayer and Christian renewal since the Middle Ages. It was to be a true experience and affirmation of faith in the face of militant atheism and non-belief on the part of those in public office. This pilgrimage was to take place on July 25, 1937, a feast day of Saint James.

Social and religious context

Spain, in the early 30s had an anti-clerical and an anti-Christian government. Very militant, this government was encouraging the youth to be aggressive and atheistic in education and in family life. The Church was subtly attacked. The Young Men’s Catholic Action wanted to show the whole Spanish world that faith was still alive and could be influential in daily life. They decided that a great pilgrimage to Compostela would be a visible way to oppose anti-Christian forces and consolidate and channel the Christian energy of the young people.

Confrontation of the two camps in Spain lead to the civil war of 1936-1939 in which more than 500,000 people died. Today Christians honour thousands of martyrs who died for their faith. After the civil war, dechristianisation was everywhere. It deprived the Church of a great number of her faithful. The situation underlined a blatant religious ignorance, a superficial Christian life too often bogged down into ritualism and external appearances. However, Christian charity governed some convinced Christians.

In 1941, this deplorable situation touched the hearts of many young men who remained faithful to Christ and His message. They decided to work at transforming this society without Christ into one that was centered on Him. They relinked with the ideal of the Young Men’s Catholic Action. They asked themselves the question: “What should we do to become a leaven and to form Christians into instruments of the Gospel in the world today?” After reflection and prayer, they revived the idea of 10 years previously, that of the pilgrimage of the young people to Compostela.

They wished it to be an event of knowledge of faith, a deepening of the demands of faith and of a real commitment to Christ. This was to be an opportunity to share, to pray and to make gestures of brotherly love. To obtain good results, it was decided to prepare it through short courses (Cursillos) given for diocesan leaders of the pilgrimage and to group leaders.

These Cursillos were in three parts: the first dealt with the knowledge of faith, i.e. grace, faith, obstacles to grace, sacraments and life in grace; the second addressed the nature, leadership and the aspects of Catholic Action; and the third tackled all the things about the pilgrimage and its organisation. These Cursillos took place everywhere in Spain for many years. They lasted a full week. The pilgrimage took place, after many postponements, in July 1948. It gathered 70,000 young people from all of Spain and all of the south American countries. It was a success.

To be continued...

• David Ferguson is the lay director of the Cursillo Ministry for the Anglican Diocese of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.


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